Job Watch: Russia

Russia is an attractive destination for foreign investment, so how has this affected recruitment in the local legal sector?

“With an influx of investment the banking and finance sector has shown a significant increase, particularly on the debt side,” comments Anthony Wiggins of Pro-Legal. “Corporate M&A work is also a key area for growth, with the traditionally strong energy sector being supplemented by work from tech and retail. Real estate and construction are also areas of growth among foreign investors.”

There was also a notable shift in 2012 in terms of how firms recruit, notes Nikita Prokofiev, head of legal search practice at Odgers Berndtson Russia.

“2012 saw quite a number of moves in the private practice space,” says Prokofiev. “If in 2010-11 almost all partner-level laterals were motivated by client following and very few associate or counsel moves took place, non-partner searches are now back on track and not all candidates are expected to have a heavy book of business.”

Firms are also becoming more selective, stresses Prokofiev.

“Firms have become extremely pragmatic and meticulous,” he says. “There are no more quick offers: they need to know what’s inside the box and what they can make out of it.”

And the mood is quite different in the private practice and in-house markets, adds Oksana Solomou, a senior consultant at Laurence Simons.

“The legal recruitment market in Russia significantly differs from private practice to in-house,” says Solomou. “While in-house has been active in various industries throughout 2012, law firms have practised more caution when recruiting, with only a few firms – mainly boutique US firms with relatively small offices in Russia – prepared to invest in new practices.”

The in-house market may also be a tougher nut to crack for foreign-qualified lawyers.

“Most classic in-house roles in Russia require Russian qualification and international experience,” notes Solomou. “Only a few sectors require the skills and experience of foreign lawyers. Opportunities for foreign lawyers may arise in investment houses, private equity funds or oligarch structures, [but] predominantly at a more senior level.”

And knowledge of Russian is a must, highlights Wiggins.

“It’s very difficult for a foreign lawyer to obtain an in-house position in Moscow, but not impossible,” he says. “The major obstacle is language, but if you speak Russian and have been doing quality work in a respected private practice the potential is there. An understanding of both English and Russian law is an advantage. Not too many candidates fit these criteria.”

“I didn’t see more than two openings in 2012,” adds Prokofiev. “I recruited for a senior international counsel for a major private equity fund and general counsel for a Europe-based family office of a Russian billionaire. However, in both instances our clients needed proficiency in Russian.”